Jul 6, 2016


In the 1960s and 70s, a revolution took place in the way we understand human nature. Out went Marx and Freud, and in came a rational, scientific approach to the way we see ourselves. At the vanguard of that revolution was Richard Dawkins, the evolutionary biologist whose book The Selfish Gene changed the thinking not just of other scientists but of all of us, and propelled its author to intellectual stardom as the modern heir to Darwin.

To mark the 40th anniversary of The Selfish Gene and Dawkins’ 75th birthday, Intelligence Squared are staging a global event, bringing together luminaries from the worlds of science, philosophy and culture to engage with Dawkins about his life and work. Steven Pinker, celebrated cognitive scientist, and Daniel Dennett, philosopher and fellow ‘New Atheist’, will be beamed in live from America. Stephen Fry will pay tribute via a special recorded message. On-stage guests will include the illusionist Derren Brown, an avowed fan of Dawkins’ theories about the workings of the mind, and the science writer Susan Blackmore, who has further developed some of Dawkins’ important ideas.

It was Dawkins’ understanding of the gene as the fundamental unit of natural selection that captured the popular imagination. It was Dawkins, too, who invented the word ‘meme’ to describe the cultural equivalent of a gene – an idea, belief or practice that replicates itself from person to person and is subject to the same selective pressures as genes – whether it’s an age-old religious practice or a modern fad such as the ice bucket challenge.

And on the subject of religion, the publication of The God Delusion a decade ago marked the moment when Dawkins became the patron saint of atheism. The book turned him into the world’s leading controversialist – hero-worshipped by atheists, demonised by believers. But throughout the hubbub of being the celebrity scientist and the non-believers’ poster boy, Dawkins continued his scientific studies at New College, Oxford, and in obscure corners across the world – where he honed the art of observing and writing beautifully about nature, conveying his sense of wonder at how organisms developed their complexity over the ages.

Join us on July 14th for this unmissable gathering of some of the world’s most original and incisive minds as they celebrate the man who has probably done more than any other person alive to illuminate how we think about ourselves and the world around us.

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Richard Dawkins

Former Charles Simonyi Chair in the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University and emeritus professor of New College, Oxford. His books, which have sold 8 million copies worldwide, include The Selfish Gene (1976), The Blind Watchmaker (1986), Climbing Mount Improbable(1996) and The God Delusion (2006).

Susan Blackmore

Writer, lecturer and broadcaster, best known for her work on memes, and more recently on what she calls ‘temes’, a new class of meme, spread by technology.

Derren Brown

Illusionist who has enjoyed a spectacularly successful career on television and on stage. He is a master of the art of psychological manipulation, convincing members of the public to perform outlandish actions. He has exposed people who profess psychic and faith-healing powers and took part in Richard Dawkins’ Channel 4 TV programme ‘The Enemies of Reason’.

Michael Frayn

One of Britain’s most distinguished and prolific novelists and playwrights, described by Richard Dawkins as an ‘aristocrat of literary and philosophical learning’. His novels include the acclaimed Headlong andSpies, and amongst his best known plays are the farce Noises Off andCopenhagen, about the relationship between two giants of modern physics, Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg.

Via live video-link

Daniel Dennett

Professor of philosophy and cognitive scientist at Tufts University. His widely praised books include Darwin’s Dangerous Idea, in which he argued that evolution can account for the origin of morality, and Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon, in which he puts forward possible evolutionary explanations for the phenomenon of religious belief.

Steven Pinker

Cognitive scientist and Professor of Psychology at Harvard University. He is one of the world’s leading authorities on language and the mind, and his popular and highly acclaimed books include The Stuff of Thought,The Language Instinct and How the Mind Works.


Jonathan Freedland

Guardian columnist, broadcaster and author.

Speakers are subject to change.

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